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Executive Director Shares 4 Volunteer Engagement Tips for Associations

Engaging your volunteers and encouraging them to work with your nonprofit is vital for your association's success. We’ll share some tips and tricks (from the pros!) to keep volunteers engaged at your association.

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Volunteers are vital to the success of any nonprofit. They are passionate individuals with a lot to contribute towards your organization’s goals. And they’re looking to donate their time and skill set to a group they believe in. But are your association’s volunteer engagement numbers where they should be?

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, about 63 million Americans gave 8 billion hours of volunteer service. More than that, the average value of volunteer time in 2016 was $24.24 per hour. This means that a volunteer provides the same amount of work as someone being paid that much as an hourly wage. That’s value that your nonprofit wants to retain for the future. Web Scribble spoke with Sarah Lampson, the Executive Director for the Canadian Association of Research Administrators (CARA).

In her fifth year with CARA, she leads volunteer committees to success each year. In fact, Sarah has seen a 400% increase in volunteerism since the start of her career as ED. So, how do you engage your volunteers and encourage them to work with your nonprofit? We’ll share some tips and tricks to keep volunteers engaged at your association.

Why are volunteers so important?

Without volunteers, your association’s goals probably seem impossible to reach. Volunteers can provide professional background and special skill set, and they do it without breaking the bank. Having a solid team of volunteers is a cost-effective way to achieve success for your organization.

But, why do people volunteer? In most cases, a volunteer is an individual who has the same passion as your nonprofit, but does not have the funds to be a member. People also use volunteerism as a way to “test out” your nonprofit. They could be interested in becoming a member, but want more experience with your organization before deciding. In Sarah’s case, she volunteered for all of those reasons. “I volunteered because I loved meeting new people, sharing my knowledge and gaining new skills.” Her extensive volunteer work grew into a close relationship with CARA and led her to her career as an Executive Director. “Without our great volunteers,” Sara states, “CARA would not be able to offer nearly the level of programs and services we do.”

So, now that you know why volunteers come to your association, it’s time to learn how to keep them there. Here are 4 different techniques to use for increased volunteer engagement.

1. Offer a variety of plans for volunteers

Often times, one of the biggest roadblocks that keeps individuals from volunteering is time. It might be hard for people to find free time to devote to your nonprofit. Your job is to make volunteer opportunities easily accessible for people with all types of schedules.

CARA offers a multitude of volunteer opportunities that range from one hour to ongoing commitment levels. The idea is to allow everyone a chance to volunteer at their own pace. It also allows members to test out a variety of volunteer options to see what best fits their lifestyle.

For example, underneath each volunteer opportunity, CARA provides the minimum amount of commitment necessary for the opportunity. This allows individuals to know what they’re signing up for beforehand. They also state whether travel is required, which is great for volunteers looking to save in travel expenses.

When coming up with a volunteer plan, offer a few different volunteer options. Make sure all of your volunteer options are easily accessible (like on your website) and provide all necessary information.

2. Implement a recognition program

Volunteers put a great amount of time and energy into the success of your organization. Therefore, appreciation goes a long way. Notice their hard work and efforts with a volunteer recognition program.What is a volunteer recognition program? It differs for many nonprofits. Typically, a recognition program puts some sort of reward into place for volunteers who go above and beyond to donate their time to your organization. However, there are many different ways to create a recognition program.

An example of a good volunteer recognition program comes from the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). Their volunteer recognition program is accessible online and offers a unique incentive for volunteering. Individuals can log their volunteer hours and receive a lapel pin to wear at AAD meetings.

CARA also has a volunteer recognition program available on their website which offers a multitude of incentives. Keeping a volunteer recognition program easily accessible increases the chance of people offering to volunteer. If your association is looking to increase volunteer engagement, consider a recognition program for your organization.

3. Allow volunteers to take part in bigger events

Volunteers want to feel like their contribution is going to an important cause. What better way to make them feel appreciated then to invite them onto bigger projects?

CARA exemplifies this practice by having a volunteer-run newsletter called the CARA Connection, the newsletter is bi-monthly and includes contributions submitted by volunteers and those looking to enhance CARA’s news outlet. While Sarah started the newsletter, over time the responsibility was handed over to volunteers and in turn created a closer sense of community. Sarah claims the increased programs and services CARA is able to create and offer has led to an increase in membership.

Allow volunteers to take part in projects within your nonprofit. One way to do this is to slowly integrate volunteer help into a staff-run project like a newsletter or a webinar. This allows volunteers to work with other members and staff, seeing what it’s like to be apart of the organization. It also promotes the increase of volunteer numbers in the future.

4. Send out annual letter to volunteers

Who doesn’t like to be thanked for putting in hard work? Sending a thank you letter to volunteers notifies them of your appreciation and encourages them to come back next year.

CARA includes a few different offers within their annual thank you letter. “We added an annual thank you to all volunteers which includes a copy to their supervisor if they wish and 2 free webinar passes annually,” Sara explains. “These new additions enhanced the experience of volunteering which is already a great way to meet peers.”

The idea of including a free offer within an annual thank you letter is one that has seen success for CARA’s volunteer engagement. Your association can see a similar increase in volunteer engagement success by trying this strategy out. There are plenty of different incentives to include in a thank you letter. Choose the one that works best for your organization. CARA successfully created a positive environment for volunteer growth within their association. Try incorporating these ideas into your association’s volunteer program for an increase in volunteer engagement and retention.